Not a fun subject. Sorry. Also likely to ramble. If you were expecting funny, skip this one.
My brother has cancer, which sucks enormously. Dealing with this is hard – on me, on him, on our mom, on my wife and my kids… basically, dealing with death is something humans suck at.
My friend Laurie lost her mom three years ago. She was hit by a distracted driver. I think about that every time I get into the car, and I promise myself I will keep my attention on the road. That won’t bring Laurie’s mom back, of course, but it’s a little thing I can do to remember her and to try to make her death matter.
I don’t know how I can do that for my brother. I don’t know what I can do to try to deal with this.
In a way, I’m lucky – Laurie didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her mom. We’re all in this world for a limited time, and very few of us get to see our deaths coming. That doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t feel lucky. I just feel sad, and cheated of what I was going to get, and fearful of what a world without my brother will be like.
He’s smart, and he’s funny, and he’s talented, and I love him very much. He’s got the most wicked sense of humor, and he’s an incredibly talented musician, and the world will be so much smaller without him in it.
I talked to my minister today – Victoria Safford at White Bear UU. She’s an incredible speaker, and a really genuinely empathetic person, and it was really good to get a chance to talk to someone that I wasn’t trying to take care of. It’s odd at this stage in my life that I have a minister, and that I have a church. I hadn’t expected to have those things, or to need them, but I am very glad that I have them in my life. Victoria suggested that I take some time every day to get in touch with my grief, because it will be with me forever. I’m going to have to learn to live with it. And to live without my brother.
I don’t know how long we have left. I hope it’s a long while. I fear it’s not. I try not to show that fear, because I want my brother to to keep his spirits up, and to enjoy the time he has. I try not to let my grief overwhelm me, because then I’m no good to anyone. So I stay busy – which is not to say productive, because when you’re trying to avoid something, you do whatever is in front of you, because thinking about what to do can lead to thinking about the exact things you’re trying to avoid thinking about. Sigh.
I love you, Mike. Stick around a while, okay? I’m not done with you yet. There’s nobody else that really gets my jokes.
I spent last Friday not gaming, but going to see Thomas Dolby at the Cedar.
Was it worth giving up gaming night? Yes, for two reasons.
First, it was a really good show.
The opening act, bluegrass duo Aaron Jonah Lewis and Ben Belcher, played with considerable skill and a lot of heart, and gave me my favorite moment of the evening. If you have not heard Timing X on fiddle and banjo, you have not truly heard Timing X, even if you’ve heard Devo play it live, which I have. Dolby’s drummer (whose name I cannot recall, which is a shame, because he was excellent) snuck in behind the duo to provide drum accompaniment, which made it even more awesome.
Grade: A. One of the best opening acts I have seen. Paul and Storm are the other contender for “best opener ever.”
Dolby himself put on a great show. As in his Sole Inhabitant tour (which I did not get to see, but have seen video from), one some tracks he built the base of the song in layers, before kicking in along with his guitarist and drummer. Whose names, again, I cannot recall, which annoys me. Be better at being searchable, Internet!
Dolby’s son Graham Robertson (because Thomas Dolby is actually Thomas Robertson when he’s not on stage, as I understand) took over the drums for a couple of songs, which was very cool. It must be very strange and very cool to be a kid (born 1995, Graham must be 16 or 17) playing music with your dad, who originally recorded this song well before you were born. I know Alex sometimes has difficulty understanding that I was ever anyone but “Dad” and the idea of me as a teenager is just weird to him.
The music was excellent, the band was having fun and it was great to see the Cedar packed and Dolby selling out a venue.
Second, I got to spend the night hanging out with my brother Mike, which is a really high priority for me right now.
So yeah, totally worth it. Sorry, D&D gang. I love you all, but my brother wins. And come on, Thomas Dolby. You should have been there.
Time to get my geek on.
In our long-running 4th Edition D&D game, the party hit 11th level, and thus needed to choose paragon paths. Most of them found something suitable, but Thorin Durthak, the dwarven fighter (played by my old friend Brandt) just wasn’t finding anything particularly interesting.
So we decided to make something up ourselves. How hard can it be?
Paragon paths start with three game effects:
- a path feature that affects gameplay in a persistent way (a feat, more or less)
- an encounter attack power
- an effect that happens when you spend an action point.
The paragon path we decided to invent is the Dwarven Brewmaster, in tribute to the many bad and good beers we’ve consumed during our sessions.
We took advantage of a session where we only had a couple of people available to start with a Vision Quest; Thorin, accompanied by two of his friends, spent a night in a hill giant bar, where he defended the honor of a hill giant maiden from the lord by challenging the lord to a drinking contest. His friends kept the lord’s minions and “hound” at bay with their wits and skills.
“Finish your drinks, boys, for it’s into the gates of Hell we’re headed next. Bottoms up!”
Brewing beer has been part of Dwarven culture since time immemorial. The earliest recipes are primitive by modern standards, including only hops, barley and water. Dwarven ingenuity has led to many different methods of brewing, involving complex apparatus, as well as ever-more-innovative means of storing and transporting beer to preserve its flavor.
Brewmasters are regarded with awe and some degree of fear by the rest of Dwarven society. Their experimentation with new frontiers in the brewing arts can sometimes result in unfortunate side effects, and they tend to be drunk most of the time. The constant drinking makes the Brewmaster resistant to many kinds of effects, and the various exotic brews can have powerful effects.
Refilling Action – when you spend an action point, you may roll a d20 and consult the following table.
1-5 No effect
6-15 Gain an additional use of any one Encounter power you possess
16-19 Gain an additional use of any one Daily power you possess
20 Gain an additional use of any one Daily power you possess and a temporary action point
Half in the Bag – you gain +5 to saving throws against being Dazed, Dominated or Stunned.
Dwarven Brewmaster Attack 11
Encounter – Standard Action
Close Blast 3
Target: Each creature in blast
Attack: Constitution vs. Fort
Hit: Con modifier acid damage, and the target takes Con modifier ongoing acid damage (save ends), and the target must save or be knocked prone.
Bill “Phosphorous” Sears passed away today. I never got the chance to meet him, but his art graced a number of games I worked on, and I’m going to miss him.
About 10 years ago, my friends Rich and Iikka started making games as Digital Eel. They make games with style and a touch of insanity. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work on almost all of their games as a tester, starting in early beta stages, often before much of the game is fleshed out – there’s an engine there, but gameplay may be wildly unbalanced, the UI is still in flux, missions or levels are really limited. That sounds kind of painful, but I assure you, it’s fun.
Partly because Digital Eel makes games that are enjoyable to play, and that’s evident even in early half-finished versions. But mostly it’s fun because I get to have opinions about gameplay, storyline and the like, and those sometimes make it into the game. Nothing like seeing your requirements in the finished product to make you feel a sense of ownership.
There’s a fairly small group of guys (people, but they are in fact all guys) who have been beta testing Digital Eel games. Early, Rich started calling us the Fearless Testers – that’s even the label he put on us for the credits. My friend John Slade and I decided to unionize, in the event that a dispute ever broke out, to give ourselves collective bargain leverage. Or something. We might have been drinking at the time. So we dubbed ourselves “Fearless Testers Union, local 256,” a number chosen both to imply that we had a lot of people behind us, and because hey, powers of 2, we’re nerds.
Digital Eel is Rich and Iikka, but it’s also Phos. His brain-melting art graces the box design for Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space, which is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s funny, and challenging, and beautiful, and profound, and I’ve played and replayed it dozens of times. His art and his sense of weirdness is all over Digital Eel’s games. I’m proud to have worked on games with him, and I’m sad that I won’t get to do so again.
Farewell, Phos. I hope its weirder than you imagined where you are, because it’s less weird around here without you.
Thinking about the season:
This is, as I noted earlier, the first year for the coaches and most of the team in the A league. We had three 7th-graders, but only one of them (Jake) played in the A league last year – Nate was in traveling ball and AJ didn’t play in 6th grade. Two years ago, when we moved up to the B league as the Mudcats, we had a tough season – it was the first year pitching for any of the guys, which added a whole new dimension to the game.
Our team was, on the average, younger than most of the teams we were facing, and I noticed a pretty significant correlation between the age of the team and their performance – not a sure thing, but if you were to bet on the older team to win, you’d probably win your bet in most MAA games. This is not surprising, given the amount of growing most boys are doing between the ages of 11 and 13, but I saw height disparities of something like 18 inches between the tallest and the shortest players.
We really only lost to three teams. We played a total of 18 games this season – 12 regular-season, 3 summerfest and 3 tournament.
In the regular season, we lost to 3 teams: Giants in the first game of the season, Nationals and Royals in the last two.
In Summerfest, we lost to the Royals in game 1 and the Red Sox in game 3 (we beat the Cardinals in game 2, the only time we saw them all season).
In the tournament, we beat the Giants (putting us 1-1 on the season with them) in game 1, then lost to the Red Sox (again) in game 2 and to the Royals (again) in game 3.
So, teams we lost to at all: Giants, Nationals, Red Sox, Royals. But we came back and evened up the season with the Giants at 1-1, meaning (as I see it), that we only lost to three teams: Nationals, Red Sox (twice) and Royals (three times).
For our last game of the season, we faced the Oakdale Royals. Again.
We faced these guys in the Summerfest tournament, where they beat us 11-2 in round 1 on the way to the championship. Then we saw them again in the last game of the regular season, where they beat us 21-1. They’ve been riding two really good pitchers in every game we’ve seen, and we saw them again this time around. Just like in the Summerfest tournament, their starter pitched three and came back to close it out, with their shortstop pitching the 4th, 5th and 6th. The two of them combined for a no-hitter. We got just two baserunners all game – Alex worked a walk to start the 3rd (batting in the 7th spot in the order this time), and Nate beat out a dropped third strike in the 5th. Both of them stole 2nd and 3rd, but we couldn’t get them across the plate.
As you might guess, since we didn’t score any runs, we didn’t win. Alex started and pitched well, giving up 6 runs in three innings (and yes, an 18.00 ERA for a single game is good against this team!). He started the 4th, but he was tired and not finding his release point, so Craig pulled him and put in Marco after Alex walked one of the Royals on 4 pitches, two of which were over the catcher’s head.
The guys played well in the field, but the Royals are great hitters, and kept hitting the line drives into the outfield. We missed a couple of plays and gave them some extra outs, and they didn’t return the favor. We stuck with it, though, and kept them to 8 runs, giving us our best showing against them defensively all year.
Final score: Royals 8, Ironpigs 0
Season record: 9-3, 6th place
Tournament record: 1-2, 4th place
Game 2 of the playoffs had us facing the #1 seed, the Oakdale Red Sox. We saw these guys in the Summerfest tournament, where they beat us 15-3, so we knew they were good.
Like game 1, we were playing in very hot weather – 95 degrees and high humidity, so it feels even hotter. One of the parents set up a sun-shield for the bench, which was awesome – having some shade was a lifesaver.
Since the Sox were the higher seed, we batted first, and managed to score a run. They got four back in the bottom of the first, and that pretty much set the tone for the game. As we saw in the tournament, they’re good hitters and they have good pitching. They don’t seem like a very solid defensive team – and with pitchers like they have, they don’t need to be in order to win games – but they made some great catches, robbing us of at least three hits. We gave them a couple of extra outs with defensive misplays, which are understandable in the heat, but unfortunate.
Final score: Red Sox 9, Ironpigs 4 (better than the last time we played these guys, at least)
Tournament record: 1-1
We’re still playing on the weekend, but now we know we’re playing for 3rd place rather than the championship. Pretty darn good for our first year at this level.
In past years, Alex’s end-of season tournament has been on the last weekend in July. This year, there are 22 teams in the A league (despite being the Maplewood Athletic Association, there are only 3 Maplewood teams – we have 2 from Little Canada, 5 from North St. Paul, 5 from Roseville and 7 from Oakdale). This means that the playoffs started on Monday night.
This also means that I missed game 1. I scheduled a work trip to Los Angeles about a month ago, figuring that I’d miss a practice. Oops.
When the game started, I was in the Phoenix airport, waiting for a connecting flight to Burbank. As it turned out, the airplane was delayed – some kind of maintenance thing – so I got to follow the game via text message. The plus was that I was sitting in air conditioning, instead of out on the field in 95-degree weather with a heat index well over 110. I’d rather have been there.
We’re the 6th seed in the tournament (out of 12 teams in the “American League” bracket of the A league – with 22 teams, the playoffs were split into two sections), so we faced the 7th seed, the Roseville Giants. This is the team that beat us 12-3 to start the season. Christina says they came in feeling kind of cocky, probably because they beat us before. That changed fairly quickly.
Alex started and gave up a run in the top of the first, with the defense making some good plays behind him. We came to bat in the bottom of the 1st and scored 7, and that was pretty much the game – the Giants realized that they were going to lose and gave up. Alex settled down and cruised through two more innings, and we put at least one run on the board in every inning. The Giants came to life in the later innings, as everyone was getting hot and tired.
Final score: Ironpigs 14, Giants 5.
Tournament record: 1-0. We’re playing on Sunday, either for the championship or for 3rd place.
We came into game 12 in high spirits, despite losing Monday. We stayed in that game and played hard, so we didn’t get down.
Our opponent was the Oakdale Royals. We played these guys in the Summerfest tournament, and they beat us 8-2. We were looking for a payback game, and the Royals were fresh off their first loss of the season, to the Maplewood Hooks, a team we beat already this season. So we knew we could beat them.
We didn’t. The Royals batters were on fire – their coach said they had not had a game like this in weeks – and their pitchers were as well. The few balls we managed to put into play found fielders waiting for them.
Alex started and had his worst outing of the season, giving up 7 runs in 3 innings. I think he doubled his run total for the season in this game. At that, he did the best of our pitchers; the Royals were relentless at the plate, 7-running us in one inning and coming close in another – 6 runs in and bases loaded with two out when we finally managed to close out the inning.
We managed to keep from being shut out, but that was all we could pull off.
The best part of the game, though, was that the guys didn’t get down; we came to bat in the bottom of the 6th (and final) inning trailing by 20 runs, and I could hear Luke Pasiuk shouting “Let’s score 20 and get back in it” from the bench all the way over at 3rd base. The whole team was on their feet, cheering on their teammates at bat in the final inning. After the game, Tyler said “that was a fun game” and he actually meant it.
Yeah, we got beat, and beat bad. But we got to play baseball. And we’ll get ‘em next time.
Final score: Royals 21, Ironpigs 1
Season record: 9-3
Still no word on when our playoff games are; I’m hoping we don’t play Monday or Tuesday because I’m out of town and I don’t want to miss a game.
So Netflix hiked rates today, and people are upset.
I don’t get it. Why the angst? I looked, and as far as I can tell, it’s not a big deal – I’m finally getting charged a pittance for something I value highly.
Bear in mind, I signed up for Netflix back in 2002, and have had a 3-disc-at-a-time subscription the whole time. It’s $19.99, which is less than two premium margaritas at Don Pablo’s. On the other hand, I’ve had times when I’ve had a disc out for 3 months because I keep not making time to watch TV. When they introduced streaming as a free feature, I suddenly was getting ten times the value for my subscription. Taking the rate up to $23.99 for the same deal seems reasonable to me. If anything, I’ll drop the disc subscription (which I’m sure Netflix is just fine with, since they’re getting out of physical distribution as fast as they can) and actually save money.
It seems odd, though. Didn’t Netflix do focus tests? Did they leave out the nerds or something? I mean, your target market is “people who use the Internet a lot,” which means they have a disproportionate reach to their size, and the ability to create flash crowds with things like trending on Twitter. Even a small percentage of people who are really pissed off can make the story “people are angry about Netflix price hike” instead of the more desirable “Netflix clarifies pricing plans, increasing customer choice”.
I’ve met some of the Netflix people, (on the data and API side, not marketing), and they are smart, capable people. Clearly, though, somebody missed the key message that needed to go out. From the NYT article:
What cost $10 a month — online streams of movies plus one DVD by mail at a time — will now cost $16 a month, the company said…
No no no! The message you wanted to get out was “This is a 20% price cut on our most essential service.” Unlimited streaming for $8 a month? That’s a *great* offer.
Swing and a miss right there. Dig that back foot in, and watch it all the way to the bat next time. You’ll get ‘em.